Infertility: Diagnosis, Treatment & Coping

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Learn about diagnosis, treatment options and how to cope with infertility.

Trying to start a family can be an exciting time filled with dreams and anticipation. But, for couples who struggle with infertility, this time can mean months of disappointment and discouragement instead. UnityPoint Health midwife, Bree Herring, C.N.M., walks through the emotional process of infertility and how providers can help.

Diagnosing Infertility

When couples begin trying to conceive, it’s an unknown if they will struggle to become pregnant. Bree says roughly one out of eight couples may have trouble conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term.

“Most couples learn they may have infertility when they try to become pregnant for one year without success,” Bree says. “Less commonly, some couples know before trying to conceive that they may need additional help; for instance, if one of the partners has gone through chemotherapy or if the woman has already been diagnosed with premature ovarian failure.”

If couples have had unprotected intercourse for one year and not achieved pregnancy, it might be time to talk about infertility. For women over the age of 35, providers recommend scheduling an appointment after six months of trying to conceive. 

“Initially, your provider will try to figure out the cause of the infertility. The male partner may have health issues, such as a lowered sperm count, or the female partner can have health issues, such as not releasing eggs every month. Sometimes, both partners have health conditions, which make them less fertile and conception even more difficult. By doing a thorough health history with appropriate labs and testing, we are able to find a diagnosis for many couples. However, some couples will continue to have unexplained infertility,” Bree says. 

Infertility Treatment Options

A variety of treatment options are available for couples struggling with infertility. Treatment plans are specific to each couple and circumstance, but Bree explains several common methods.

“Sometimes, we are able to help couples conceive by using low-technology methods, such as using ovulation predictor kits and timing intercourse. Other times, medications may be needed to help a woman's body release eggs. There are also methods that can help when a man has a low sperm count. In this case, couples can try a procedure where sperm is placed inside the woman's body by her medical team to improve the odds of fertilizing an egg. For other couples, in vitro fertilization (IVF) might be necessary. IVF is performed by combining a sperm and an egg in a lab, then implanting the embryo inside the woman's body,” Bree says. 

She also says an overlooked area of infertility is couples who are able to get pregnant without additional help but are unable to carry a pregnancy to term. Underlying causes can be difficult to identify, but providers work with couples to find appropriate test and treatment options to help make carrying a healthy pregnancy to term a reality. 

While infertility is becoming more of a public conversation, Bree says, at this time, insurance doesn’t always provide financial assistance. 

“Unfortunately, many insurance plans do not provide coverage for infertility testing or treatment. It’s important to check with your individual plan provider to see what type of coverage may be available,” Bree says.

Coping with Infertility

Struggling with infertility is an emotional process to say the least, but Bree advises couples not to feel like they have to go it alone.

“Many couples going through infertility feel isolated. Connecting with other couples who have gone through infertility can help make this experience less difficult and getting involved with online or local support groups or exploring counseling may also help. One I’d recommend is RESOLVE: The National Fertility Association, which provides support and resources to couples with infertility,” Bree says. 

In addition to connecting with others, investing in your relationship with your partner matters, too. 

“Open communication is very important. Maintaining a healthy relationship while going through infertility is very challenging, but spending quality time with your partner can help,” Bree says. 

If you are concerned about infertility, please make an appointment with your UnityPoint Health provider to discuss your history and to determine the best plan of care.